MONTEREY, Calif. – Pato O’Ward said he needed to make something happen to continue the fight for the Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires championship.
The teenager from Monterrey, Mexico did exactly that on Saturday afternoon.
O’Ward survived a late-race challenge from his Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz to win the opening race of the Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey presented by Allied Building Products tripleheader at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was the 18-year-old rookie’s seventh win of the season.
“We came out of with the win, and I’m really, really, really thrilled for myself and for all my friends who came to see me. I’m going to try really hard to do this again tomorrow, but it’s not going to be easy.”
O’Ward, who led all 20 of the laps in the 30-minute timed race on the 11-turn 2.238-mile road course, grabbed the lead at the start from the pole-sitting Telitz and steadily built a lead over the next 10 laps. He held a lead of more than 10 seconds when the race’s only caution came out on Lap 17 after Kory Enders spun off course in Turn 2.
As the green and white flag flew on Lap 20, Telitz made a bold bid for the lead in Turn 2, passing O’Ward around the with an over-under move in the Andretti hairpin.
O’Ward paid back the move with a gutty pass in Turn 5 and was able to drive away by 1.0176 seconds. Nicolas Dapero finished third for Juncos Racing, closing within a few tenths of Telitz. Nico Jamin of Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing and Jake Parson rounded out the top five finishers.
“After the restart, I got passed and I said, ‘After leading (by) 12 seconds, I’m not going to lose this.’ So I tried to make a pass happen,” O’Ward said. “The tires were still really cold and I felt like I was driving with punctures.”
Added Telitz: “On the restart, I got in front of Pato, but his tires were so much better than mine that coming into (Turn) 5, he put it under me and I couldn’t even pull an over-under move even though he was crossed up. Didn’t make back and we made it interesting
Telitz maintained the point lead with his runner-up finish holding an eight-point advantage (371-363) heading into Sunday’s doubleheader finale with Telitz and O’Ward on the front row again for Race 2. Both races can be seen on RaceControl.IndyCar.com beginning at 11 a.m. ET for Race 2 and 5:35 p.m. ET for Race 3.
“I think that what makes it so interesting,” O’Ward said. “I’m friends with Aaron and I raced him cleanly and he raced me cleanly. That’s what it’s about. Hard racing but clean. That’s what we’re going to do and whoever wins the most is going to get the championship.”